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A Collection of Essays by Steven Colborne

A Collection of Essays by Steven Colborne

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A Collection of Essays by Steven Colborne

Length:
210 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 15, 2020
ISBN:
9781838087920
Format:
Book

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A Collection of Essays by Steven Colborne features 12 essays which tackle many of the major problems of philosophy and theology.

 

The following essays are included in this volume: 'A Listener-Centred, Dialectical Model for Popular Music Analysis', 'Heraclitus and the Nature of Change', 'The Schopenhauerian Concept of Will', 'The Soul in Christianity and Platonism', 'George Eliot and Feuerbach on God and the Good', 'Karl Rahner's Anthropology', 'Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election', 'The Trinity and Suffering', 'A Letter to George Eliot about God and the Good', 'God and Suffering: Approaches and Issues', 'An Almighty Predicament: A Discourse on the Arguments For and Against Christianity', and 'The Only Question You Ever Need Ask'.

 

The first essay in this volume is Colborne's first-class undergraduate dissertation, written during his final year of study at the University of Westminster. The essay presents a radical approach to music analysis.

 

The majority of the included essays were written during Colborne's postgraduate studies at Heythrop College, University of London. While Colborne enrolled to study an MA in Philosophy and Religion, he was admitted to psychiatric hospital prior to completing his studies. He graduated with a Postgraduate Certificate.

The Heythrop essays include a discussion of the nature of the human soul, as well as various discourses related to the subject of suffering. Colborne also examines the ideas of several important figures in Western philosophy, including Heraclitus, Schopenhauer, and others. The ideas of various contemporary writers and theologians are also explored, including Karl Rahner, Karl Barth, and George Eliot.

 

The final two essays in the book were written some years later. These essays offer profound insights into the divine sovereignty versus human free will predicament, with specific reference to Christian theology. As with so much of Colborne's work, the problem of suffering is a key focus.

 

A Collection of Essays by Steven Colborne presents some of Colborne's finest work and readers will finish the book having gained a thorough understanding of Colborne's philosophical worldview and most important academic contributions.

Publisher:
Released:
Jun 15, 2020
ISBN:
9781838087920
Format:
Book

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A Collection of Essays by Steven Colborne - Steven Colborne

1

A LISTENER-CENTRED, DIALECTICAL MODEL FOR POPULAR MUSIC ANALYSIS

This essay was written by Steven in 2003 as the final year dissertation for his BA (Hons) Commercial Music degree at the University of Westminster. The essay was awarded a 1st.

Introduction

The study undertaken in this thesis is situated within the broader field of Cultural Studies. As an emergent and developing field, the aims and nature of the Cultural Studies project are by no means concrete, but Grossberg provides us with a good starting point for understanding where the academic attention is focused:

Popular culture is a significant and effective part of the material reality of history, effectively shaping the possibilities of our existence. It is this challenge – to understand what it means to live in popular culture – that confronts contemporary cultural analysis. ¹

Cultural Studies, then, are concerned with understanding the ways in which people and culture interact. Such interaction is never more prominent than in the domain of popular music, a cultural product in whose company we spend no less than 25% of our lives. ² It is therefore clear that the analysis of popular music must be regarded as of central importance if the aims of the cultural studies project are to be fulfilled.

The history of popular music studies in our time has been one of conflict and uncertainty. A hangover from the formalist analytical methods developed by the Frankfurt School musicologists of the 1920’s and ‘30’s has severely inhibited the progress of the field. For a long time, popular music analysis was undertaken by musicologists who focused on notation as the analysis object, believing the structure and form of the music (as represented by notation) to be the key to understanding musical meaning and value. This methodology, borrowed from the study of Western art music, inevitably led to conclusions of popular music’s inferiority, and its subsequent disregard within the Academy. This early approach is discussed in Chapter 2.1.

Since the 1980’s, however, a great deal more credence has been given to alternative approaches to popular music analysis. Sociologists (e.g. Frith, Wicke) have led the way in demonstrating that when approached from a different angle, popular music can be regarded as highly valuable and worthy of academic attention. The approaches of these theorists are discussed in Chapter 2.2.

While the emergence of sociology as a prominent academic field has contributed to a new willingness to take popular music studies seriously, contemporary analytical approaches have lacked unity and coherence. As Shuker explains:

Popular music studies have reflected the general field of cultural studies, in that they have tended to privilege one aspect of the matrix of factors which determine meaning: the production context; the creators of musical texts, primarily but not exclusively musicians; the texts themselves, including music video; and the consumers of the music. ³

As Phillip Tagg correctly points out, in order for the field to progress it is all, rather than one, of these factors that must be taken into account:

It is clear that a holistic approach to the analysis of popular music is the only viable one if one wishes to reach a full understanding of all the factors interacting with the conception, transmission, and reception of the object of study.

Tagg broadly identifies these factors as: social, psychological, visual, gestural, ritual, technical, historical, economic, and linguistic aspects relevant to the genre, function, style, (re-) performance situation, and listening attitude connected with the sound event being studied. ⁵ Of all of these factors, it is the last two, what we might call the ‘contextual’ and ‘perceptual’ factors, that have been most neglected by academics in the study of popular music. ⁶

Several theorists have noted the significance of subjective perception to our understanding of musical meaning, but have shied away from investigating it further owing to its problematic nature (e.g. Moore 1993: p7-10, Tagg in Middleton 2000: p82). As Shepherd and Wicke explain:

The relationship between ‘extra-musical’ and ‘musical’ elements has previously been formulated within musicology in terms of received wisdoms concerning the character and function of music. That is, music has been taken to appeal autonomously to the autonomous awareness of the individual. This tendency can be traced to the way in which the traditional emphasis on positivism that has characterized the study of music since the late 1950’s has resulted in the question of the relationship between musical processes and processes of subjectivity being studiously and sometimes consciously avoided.

The fear is that by placing attention on ‘extra-musical’ elements, analyses can descend into what Tagg calls ‘exegetic guesswork’ ⁸, that is, highly subjective, interpretative (hermeneutic) responses that lack the reassuring distance of scientific ‘objectivity’.

Such fears, I believe, are unhelpful and outmoded. We are living in an age where discoveries in quantum physics have led even the staunchest advocates of scientific positivism to accept that reality is a far more flexible, mutable entity than was previously imagined. ‘Objectivity’ is no longer a useful term in an age where reality itself is understood to be the creation of its subjects. Whereas consciousness was once regarded as a product of material reality, we are now beginning to understand material reality to be product of consciousness (see Chapter 1).

It is for this reason that I hereby wish to present an analytical model that gives unprecedented credence to the subjectivity of musical response. In so doing, I hope to assist a paradigm shift in popular music analysis, away from the physicality of ‘the music’ itself, ⁹ and into the minds of listeners. I wish to present musical analysis as a useful activity for everyone who listens to music, rather than a complex matter that only a small minority of academics are equipped to tackle. In this post-modern age, no academic has the right to create value and meaning for others who are actively involved in musical culture. It is the right of listeners to be confident of the validity of their response to music, and to decipher the meaning of that response for themselves, if they so wish.

It is not my intention to undermine the work of other contemporary popular music theorists, many of whom have contributed a great deal to my own thoughts regarding musical meaning and value. I emphasise, once more, that a holistic approach to popular music analysis is paramount, and I believe the work of sociologists, semiologists, psychologists, and others, has a great deal to contribute to our general understanding of the subject. My intention is simply to emphasise that at the core of popular music studies must be a deep respect for perceptual difference and subjectivity, and to demonstrate the central part that these factors play in the construction of musical meaning.


Chapter 1: The Paradigm Shift

1.1 The Old Paradigm

Much of our contemporary school curriculum, and even the concept of an institution for learning, harks back to the Greek philosophers of the 4 th Century BC. It was Plato who founded the first Academy in Athens, an institution that became the prototype of all universities. Interestingly, the basic curriculum of the Academy taught arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and the harmonics of sound as the core subjects. ¹⁰ All of these subjects are of notably mathematical bent, and so music and mathematical modes of analysis became tightly bound from the outset.

The tendency of the early Greek philosophers towards mathematics and positivism (that is, a system recognising only that which can be scientifically verified or logically proved, and therefore rejecting metaphysics and theism ¹¹) felt resurgence in the 17th Century with the scientific discoveries of Isaac Newton. As Hawking explains:

The success of scientific theories, particularly Newton’s theory of gravity, led the French scientist the Marquis de Laplace at the beginning of the nineteenth century to argue that the universe was completely deterministic. Laplace suggested that there should be a set of scientific laws that would allow us to predict everything that would happen in the universe, if only we knew the complete state of the universe at one time. ¹²

Newton’s science helped to create a paradigm that shaped a great deal of modern thinking, ensuring that science remained the primary method by which human beings endeavoured to understand existence.

Within this positivistic paradigm, the function of the Academy was primarily to separate the universe out into ‘things’. The hope was that if we could understand each thing, we could understand the whole. This approach, known as ‘reductionism’, permeated through all areas of the Academy, from the reduction of the English language into Grammar, to the reduction of the physical universe into matter, atoms and molecules, to the reduction of music into notes, intervals, and discrete rhythmic units. It is now our accepted world view that the universe is not one whole, but many parts (i.e. solar systems, galaxies, planets, countries, towns, people, fingers, cells, atoms, molecules, quanta, etc). The dividedness of the universe is merely an idea, but became the guiding principle by which we hoped to understand our very reality.

It is no wonder that under this paradigm, complexity became the primary determinant of musical value within the Academy. Early musicology, like science, broke music down into its constituent parts, hoping this would achieve a better understanding of the whole. Works that were considered more formally complex (e.g. Western art music) provided more substance for analysis, and it was complexity that was perceived as giving the music its value (see Chapter 2.1 for a description of the analytical methods of early musicology).

1.2 The New Paradigm

The Newtonian paradigm began to shake, however, in the early part of the 20 th century, as discoveries in quantum physics produced some challenging results. German scientist Max Planck discovered that the way very small particles behave, either as discrete bodies or waves, is affected by the way we observe them. The more accurately one tries to measure the position of a subatomic particle, the less accurately one can measure its velocity, and vice versa. This discovery led to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which postulated that it was in effect impossible to know both momentum and location to the same accuracy. The implications for science were profound:

The uncertainty principle signalled an end to Laplace’s dream of a theory of science, a model of the universe that could be completely deterministic: one certainly cannot predict future events exactly if one cannot even measure the present state of the universe precisely! ¹³

Experiments by scientists such as Neils Bohr and Erwin Schrödinger uncovered more so-called ‘spooky’ qualities of quantum physics, such as the ability of an electron to be in two places at once, and that the intention of a perceiver affects the outcome of an experiment. ¹⁴ These discoveries helped to demonstrate that reality, previously regarded as deterministic and predictable, is in actuality full of randomness and unpredictability.

For at the quantum level, matter and energy are nothing more than fluctuations in a colossal void known as the unified field. In a reality where this is so, the fact that we experience a ‘physical’ world at all is evidence that we ourselves are somehow creating material reality out of a universe that scientists say is 99.9% empty space. ¹⁵ In view of this, consciousness can be seen as a more creative and powerful force than was previously recognised; the world as we know it is not objectively out there but rather subjectively in here. We are not in the world; so much as the world is in us.

Figure 1 illustrates the fundamental differences between the old and new paradigms.

A table listing the differences between the two paradigms

1.3 Implications for Popular Music Analysis

As the new paradigm began to emerge in the latter part of the 20 th century, there was a corresponding shift in academic thought. The subject matter taught in schools and universities began to broaden considerably, as theories that held the absolute importance of traditional disciplines were displaced by a new regard for curriculum diversity and practicality. ¹⁶ Academics started encouraging student-centred learning in schools, as the emphasis moved away from passive learning and to a more creative approach, where students take the initiative in their own learning process.

These changes occurred because it was no longer possible to justify a curriculum in terms of the absolute importance of certain traditional disciplines. Under the new paradigm, where absolute value ceases to be meaningful, use-value becomes the primary justification for inclusion in the curriculum. It is for this reason that the academic study of popular music has emerged in the latter part of the 20 th century, being of considerable value when considered, for instance, in terms of social and economic usage.

While the emergence of the new paradigm has created a new willingness to take popular music studies seriously, much of the methodology that popular music analysts employ is still rooted in the values of the old paradigm. In the next chapter I will demonstrate how this ‘methodological hangover’ is continuing to inhibit our understanding of popular music, and suggest several reasons why this is the case.


Chapter 2: Analytical Approaches to Popular Music Study

2.1 Traditional Musicology

Musicology, by definition, is the study of music as an academic subject. ¹⁷ The analytical methods used by traditional musicologists were developed primarily by theorists at the Frankfurt School in Germany in the 1920’s and ‘30’s. The school held Western art music in high esteem, and the methodologies that emerged from the school reflected this bias.

Emphasis was placed on analysing a notated representation of the music (or ‘score’). By investigating the formal properties of the music, as represented by the score, musicologists arrived at judgements as to the meaning and value of the music under interrogation. The approach, which has its roots in Newtonian positivism, draws upon Kantian aesthetics and a belief in the existence of sheer beauty. This concept assumes the existence of a kind of absolute, universal value that exists independent of the subjective involvement of the human mind. ¹⁸ Music is understood as a ‘language of the emotions’: the emotional effects of relationships represented by musical notation are believed to be natural and eternal. ¹⁹

This approach, known as ‘formalism’, was to dominate musicology for decades to come. It led to the formation of a ‘canon’ of classical masterworks that musicologists regarded as absolute examples of musical excellence. ²⁰ This canon formed the basis of the music curriculum taught in schools and universities from the 1930’s onwards (and still does today, to a large extent), and the formalist analytical techniques that demonstrated the musical superiority of these works retained a monopolistic control over the musicological discipline.

2.2 Sociology and the New Musicology

With the emergence of sociology as an academic discipline in the 1980’s, however, the methods of traditional musicology began to face serious challenges. The musicological discipline was split in two, and a clear rift between the old and new paradigms appeared.

The new musicologists subscribed to a more Hegelian school of thought. Hegel was a monist who believed in the inter-connectedness of all things. He saw the world as a dynamic process, where each thing is only meaningful in its relationship to all other things. ²¹ This philosophy influenced a much more pragmatic approach to music analysis, as the new musicologists began to look at music in terms of use value, rather than absolute aesthetic value. As Middleton explains:

The view that pop’s meanings were to be found primarily in the uses to which it was put by fans, and in the behavioural patterns within which it played such a vital role, spread more widely than the disciplinary core of cultural studies and became a foundational assumption in the sociology of music. ²²

Drawing on this new perspective, theorists began to demonstrate the difficulties of applying the traditional musicological methodology to the study of popular music. As Tagg explains, there are fundamental differences between popular music and Art music that call for quite different analytical approaches:

[P]opular music, unlike art music, is (1) conceived

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